Fashion’s original rock and roller

Over the past twenty years, John Varvatos has taken the fashion world by storm, with 2019 marking his move into the Middle East. L’Officel Hommes Arabia caught up with the fashion legend
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John Varvatos, the designer and brains behind his eponymous label is a regular on the Dubai scene. In fact, the Middle Eastern city holds such a close place in the designer's heart that he recently picked the emirate to shoot his Spring/Summer 2019 collection featuring rap star, Machine Gun Kelly. Often described as the millennial answer to Eminem, Kelly has worked with the brand for several years, first partnering with the label in 2017. It isn’t difficult to see why he was picked for the campaign, the John Varvatos label has long been known for its rock and roll aesthetics and rebellious spirit in men’s luxury from tailoring to fragrances and eyewear. The two met by chance several years ago at the John Varvatos store on the site of the legendary CBCG music club in New York City. Varvatos told L’Officiel Hommes Arabia: “Before working with Kelly, I followed his career for many years. Our shared passion for music, mid-western roots, and living life with a rebel spirit have bonded us in friendship.” The rap star added “When we first met I was wearing a John Varvatos two-piece suit with no shirt and a John Varvatos scarf tied in the John Varvatos way. And I think he just saw me and thought I looked cool. We were just two rock and rollers in the same spot at the same time.” Fast forward to December 2018 and the pair are the UAE shooting the designer’s upcoming Spring/Summer collection. The shoot saw Kelly dune bashing and running through the desert with blistering speed. Pieces worn in the shoot included the John Varvatos slim fit floral shirt worn with the Japanese selvedge fabric woven zip pocket Chelsea jeans, elsewhere Kelly is seen in John Varvatos Gramercy sunglasses along with two handcrafted necklaces (a silver turquoise feather necklace in sterling silver and a beaded stone and silver necklace).

Rock and roll heritage

Despite the A-list rock and roll aesthetic John Varvatos has become known for, long before his name became a fashion label, the would-be designer grew up in the industrial North American city of Detroit. “It has grit, it’s a tough city,” explains the designer. “But it also has a great music scene”. As a teenager, Varvatos was inspired by the aesthetic which accompanied the city’s underground scene. It wasn’t something that he would start to explore in his own work however, until much later. During the eighties and early nineties, Varvatos held senior positions at both Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein. It was only at the latter fashion house however, where he began to become involved in the design side of the company. Here, he created one of the first internationally famous campaigns for the fashion house of that decade: the iconic menswear boxer brief, with a series of adverts featuring movie star and musician Mark Wahlberg. He then moved back to Ralph Lauren, before deciding to launch his own company in 1999. At the time, Ralph Lauren had some sage advice for the up-and-coming designer. “He told me that I should only go ahead with the project if I had ‘something new to say’”, Varvatos explains. It was at this point that the designer really started focusing on the unique aesthetic he could offer, inspired by his passion for rock and roll culture and the aesthetic of stars such as Keith Richards and Jimmy Page, he began to build a collection which included leather jackets, boots, using luxury leathers and fabrics. It’s a formula that saw quick success, with the designer winning the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s (CFDA) Perry Ellis Award for Menswear in 2000, and the CFDA Designer of the Year award in 2001. While in 2005 he won the much-coveted Menswear Designer of the Year prize.

Expansion in the Middle East

After twenty years of success in the West, John Varvatos arrived in Dubai last December to launch his first ever boutique in the region (at Fashion Avenue in The Dubai Mall, naturally) and topped off the trip with a packed out launch party on the 43rd floor of Central Park Towers in Business Bay with Kelly as the headline performer. The raw, industrial aesthetic at the party is something which John Varvatos fans no doubt certainly expected, but as the designer admitted something which was very much new to the Dubai scene. “Some people were surprised about the party, Dubai is normally so polished, I met so many people that said parties just don’t happen here like that, everyone had a great time.” Indeed, bringing a fresh perspective to the city’s fashion scene is arguably just the start of Varvatos’s love affair with Middle East, with rumours of a second store opening in the Middle East 2020. The label already has a large fan base with international customers, and no doubt there are few better cities in the world to target a cosmopolitan international audience than in Dubai. Through his 360 approach (covering menswear, fragrances and eyewear) he also recognises the complex demands of his fanbase. But, the designer concludes, reflecting on his former mentor’s advice “it’s something that we’ll only continue to do as long as we have something new to say,” and with the label’s continued creativity and innovation, it's something that we can no doubt look forward to for many years to come. The John Varvatos store is located in Fashion Avenue, at The Dubai Mall. For more information, visit

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